Airlines should put more muscle into their empathy, rather than their resolution


When was the last time you attended a match or a concert and were asked to give up your seat? United Airlines have made one customer’s on-the-ground travel experience more stressful than flying upside down in a hurricane.  And United’s response has got to be the worst form of resolution we have ever witnessed. Giving an insight into how much they and their sector truly care about their customers.

With the average number of people flying each year increasing, airlines are continuing to reduce the space afforded to passengers as they aim to increase the amount of people on their flights. Unlike the grocery retail sector, where we’ve seen discount brands like Aldi and Lidl disrupt the mainstream grocers with their simple ‘low price, quick service’ model, the Airline industry has been critically damaged by layered pricing strategies, overbooked flights and their reluctance to take their customers’ comfort and travel experience seriously.

If the Airline industry wants to buck this trend then it needs to look at its leading brands and learn from them. Southwest Airlines have ranked 9th in the USA Customer Experience Excellence Report, the US’s highest ranking airline. Southwest are an organisation that cares passionately about its customers; it empathises with the unfairness of hidden fees that other companies work into their price plans, and it wants the customer to receive the best deal possible. It calls its own approach ‘transfarency’, which means it doesn’t include extra charges for bags, additional luggage, or last minute flight changes or cancellations. As such, Southwest has performed strongly across The Six Pillars, particularly in Empathy, Expectations and Integrity, where its scores are 12 per cent higher than the US average.

Zappos in the USA and First Direct in the UK are two of the world’s leading CX companies. Both hire employees exclusively from the caring sector. They know that the best way to differentiate their businesses is via CX excellence. They also know that the best way to do this is via a hiring policy of caring and empathetic staff and training them across the key emotions of CX excellence.

Airlines have gone down the route of the Insurance and Telecoms sector where churn is regular and customers are viewed as numbers on a spreadsheet. Gone are the days when flying was an amazing experience, it has now been replaced with stress and inconvenience. But the outrage towards United Airlines last week shows that the customer’s patience with airlines has reached breaking point and the industry now need to put their hand up and accepted that it’s time for a change.

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